SILENT PLANET Frontman Garrett Russell Discusses New Album's Themes, Literary Influences, and the 'Christian Metal Band' Label
Admittedly, I'd previously been reluctant to give Silent Planet a shot due to their connection the Christian metalcore subgenre, but a friend finally convinced me to put religious connotations aside and actually try for the sake of music. And yeah, I'll say for the record that I stand corrected. Not only does Silent Planet have some truly unique jams, but their ties to Christian metalcore are more-or-less fabricated. I spoke to frontman Garrett Russell during the band's recent Stray From the Path co-headlining tour about the latest LP, philosopher and literary influences, and the truth behind their Christian association.
Check out the full interview below.
It is the first day of your tour with Stray From the Path, Kublai Khan, and Greyhaven. How are you feeling about it and what’s been your previous relationship with these bands?
Honestly, I woke up and I could barely speak. I have no idea what’s going on. My vocal cords are being weird. Typically, I don’t have any problems at the end of a tour, but for some reason I have problems at the beginning of tours. It could be anxiety-related, but I think it’s a real physical thing too. But anyways, still excited. I’ve really respected Stray from the Path for a long time. I’ve known about them for like a decade. We’ve spoken about touring with them before, so now we’re actually doing it, which is cool. I think Greyhaven put out the best album I heard this year. I don’t know them at all, but I really respect their music. Kublai Khan, we actually have toured with in the past and they’re buddies of ours.
I’d say in a way that this lineup in pretty political, kinda liberal leaning, especially with Stray From the Path and some of Kublai Khan’s songs too. Would you say Silent Planet gets political, even if not as directly as Stray From the Path?
Yeah, I think so. Possibly our most popular song is called “Native Blood” from our first album and it’s about the marginalization of the Native American people. I think in a way our stuff is more socio-culturally political than hot button issue modern day politics. I think we do talk about that to some degree, but our emphasis on history and personal story might make it seem a little less partisan. Political literally means “life of the city” and I think we’re very engaged in people’s stories from different backgrounds. It’s funny because I’ve heard some people call us a liberal social justice warrior band, which is like sure, I’m kind of a libertarian, but whatever. We live in a very "us vs. them" culture. You’re either one of the libs or one of the Trumpers. Our culture is so split right down the middle that it doesn’t leave room for nuance.
Let’s talk about the new album, When the End Began. How was the writing and recording process any different from the last LP?
We worked closer with Will Putney. He was more involved throughout the process. A lot of time when people talk about producers, they mean that the dude wrote their music, but that’s not the case here. We definitely write our own songs. But there was more of a change from the beginning, like if you look at all the pre-production songs and then you look at the final product, you can definitely see the changes made. Also, I was super depressed. I wasn’t depressed about the album; I was going through depression while doing the album. So, I guess that inevitably had some impact on everything. I’d say the overall differences with this album is that the themes and the samples we used are darker. And secondly, we worked harder to make the singing parts stronger and more memorable. We worked a lot on the melody and how we wanted the chorus to be a thesis statement for the song. I do think it’s heavier too. It’s literally tuned heavier and there’s more angrier sounding parts. It’s funny that bands often throw out all these adjectives like it’s cooler and better, but in our case I think it’s definitely darker and more sad sounding.
How would you summarize the central theme of When the End Began?
The themes are about disillusionment in modern culture and just the failures of modernism as a whole. It has a very nineteenth and twentieth century philosopher influence like Jean Baudrillard, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus. Like a lot of existentialists and people who were recognizing what we’re now recognizing in the age of Trump or like things in our culture that aren’t congruent with happiness. Modern technological advancements don’t necessarily solve the problems we have and in some ways they actually amplify them.
I read there was a lot of literary references in the previous LP, Everything was Sound. Does that stay true for this new album and any books in particular?
Yeah, certainly. A big part of how I write a song is I have an idea of how I want to write it, but then I think about what I want to say and then I think what did smarter people say. I’m a firm believer that art is a collaborative conversation. Art is not a contest of who is smarter. I think the best artists are the ones who are the most collaborative and they let other people’s life stories and experiences and books come into their art, so it’s not so one-dimensional.
Any books in specific that you were inspired by for this album or just the philosophers you previously mentioned?
It goes from song to song. In the song “The New Eternity,” inspiration came from I See Satan Fall Like Lightning by Rene Girard. He wrote about the scapegoat theory and he was a professor at USC for a long time. I think Flannery O’Connor also influences me a lot because I think she’s the best short story author ever. And she’s super metal, like insanely dark. This was also before the cultural phenomenon of metal.
In each album, there seems to be a song title pertaining to some family member: "First Mother," "First Father" and now "Firstborn." What can you tell me about these tracks and is there a connection or story between them?
It started with “First Mother” because there’s a story of literally the first mother according to the Talmud named Lilith, who perceived Eve. Of course, this is all mythological. I’m not concerned with people believing it factually. The thing about myth is there’s a truth waiting to be uncovered. The truth of “First Mother” is that we can’t understand women by gender archetypes. We need to understand people on an individual basis. People are more than the sum of their categories. And then I went to “First Father” and that song dealt with loss. It kinda made sense to be chronological because “First Mother” was about the beginning of life, “First Father” was about death, and now “First Born” is actually about a question about do you deal with the loss of not just a loved one, but of a young loved one. That song I wrote for friend of mine who lost his nine year old son in a car wreck. And also, it is inspired by a young man who was a fan of ours who died from liver cancer at the age of sixteen. He was from Albuquerque. We were able to visit him when he had like three days left of life. So that song deals with the deepest form of loss that I’ve seen, which is losing a child, because I think when someone loses a child, they lose the parts of themselves that matter the most and you deal with the cosmic injustice of why would life happen for you just to lose it. I was kinda working through a lot of that when writing that song.
Similarly, the album titles seem to be connected: The Night God Slept, Everything was Sound, When the End Began. Is there intent for a connection there?
Yeah, sounds like a sentence, like a run-on sentence missing punctuation. I guess I realized when I was coming up with the second album title, that I wanted to write a sentence that was important to me. I think if I was to sum up the central theme of all Silent Planet music and lyrics would probably be theodicy, which is the study of God and evil and the question of how could you claim there is a benevolent, omnipotent God when the you see how many bad things happen to good people. I guess I’m asking that question and the album titles are sort of a poem that sums up in a weird, artsy-fartsy way why the world is the way it is and why things seem so unfair.
Considering the biblical references, Silent Planet has been labeled as Christian metalcore over the years, which I’m sure may cause some good and also some backlash. If you had the opportunity, would you prefer to erase that label or do you find it be to fitting?
I’ll tell you point blank for the record, we’ve never considered ourselves a Christian metal band and even the perception that we are a Christian metal band has definitely made our lives harder. We get passed up on tours because they don’t want to be associated with us because of that label. I’m not ashamed of being called a Christian because I am a Christian and I’m open about that. However, our band doesn’t feel like our songs only pertain to Christians both topically and lyrically. And I don’t think you have a to be a Christian to understand our songs. If anything, we kinda get a backlash from Christians sometimes because we ask more questions than provide answers. A hallmark of typical Christian music is pretending to have answers. I don’t pretend to have answers. I have ideas that I’m open to share about my life experiences and why I’m a Christian and what Jesus means to me because I love to do that, but I’m only interested in doing that if you’re interested in doing that. I’m not really interested in making you interested in that. Not all the guys in my band are Christian either. We’re super open about that. It is a good question and it comes up a lot. I’ve seen constantly that people don’t want to hear our music because of the Christian label. I think it’s a bummer that people are that closed off to music. Honestly, I love music too much. A band could be Satanist and I just want to hear the music. It’s unfortunate that some people play that game.
There is a rather large and growing online community dedicated to Silent Planet. What are your thoughts on the Depthsposting Facebook group?
I love it, yeah. We didn’t start it. It was started organically from people who liked the band and wanted to talk to other people who liked the band and it just blossomed from there. It’s a cool community of people who are open and honest. I like to pop in there sometimes and talk to people and just ask people their opinions. I try to be a little more vulnerable than I might on the general internet. There’s a mutual respect on that community and I see people helping each other. It’s not nearly as pretentious as a lot of metal things I see and it’s not nearly as clique-y as a lot of hardcore things I see. I like to think that my band and bandmates are not super concerned with being cool. We just write the music that we think is cool and we want to play it as the best as possible, but we don’t ever see ourselves as super cool. When we were on Warped Tour, we felt really awkward because everyone else has their cliques and we don’t really know where we fit in. And we’re not even the most attractive dudes, we’re just people in a band. My whole goal with Silent Planet was to be honest and foster cool conversation and really just get past the bullshit. That Facebook group is a cool thing and has become kind of an extension of what we do. I think I’m the only guy in the band that’s in the group. The rest of the guys are pretty off social media. I would be off social media, but then our band wouldn’t exist. The internet is a very necessary evil to any band that’s not popstar huge.
The main question that was brought up on the Depthsposting community was what's some bands that your fans would be surprised that you guys listen to?
I mean I can’t think of any surprises. We don’t love like Taylor Swift or anything like that would surprise anyone or would seem funny to people. I’m really obsessed with Manchester Orchestra right now. One of the guys in the band really loves Turnover. We’re pretty predictable and listen to what every other band listens to like Deftones and Glassjaw.
What’s next for Silent Planet after this tour?
We literally have one day to get to Europe and keep touring. It’s us with a band from the UK called Acres and an American band called Comrades. We’re actually not going to tour in America very much next year.